A Tangle of Knots

232p. Philomel. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25517-5; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-1-101-60778-7. LC 2012009573.
Gr 3–7—Graff has created a world very much like our own, but just a little bit magical. In this version of Poughkeepsie, New York, many lucky people have Talent, one skill that makes them special. Cady, an orphan who lives with kindly Miss Mallory, can look at a person and immediately know what they like and bake their ideal cake. Miss Mallory's talent is finding just-right parents for orphans, but so far, she hasn't felt that perfect-parent pull for Cady. While the 11-year-old is the star of this tale, the novel integrates an expertly developed cast of supporting characters who all have their own amazing stories. Not until the very end do readers see how their paths intertwine. The plot twists deliciously around an irresistible peanut butter factory, an evil Talent thief, a very important hair pin, and a rare powder-blue suitcase that could hold the key to everything. Sprinkled throughout is a generous helping of cake recipes, perfectly suited to each of the characters, just begging to be tried. Recommend this one to fans of Sheila O'Connor, who will appreciate the charming and unusual setting, and Wendy Mass, for those who like a little dose of fantasy thrown in with their realism.—Mandy Laferriere, Staley Middle School, Frisco, TX
Young Mason Burgess, clutching a suitcase, boards a bus for Philadelphia. Told to check it, he grudgingly does. But during the journey his suitcase mysteriously disappears. Fast-forward fifty-three years. Mason, now down on his luck, rents rooms to a number of seemingly disparate characters. They live in a world much like our own, but one populated by those who have Talents (including precision spitting, knot-tying, and knitting) and those, known as Fair, who do not. This jumble of information comes quickly in the beginning chapters; a single cliffhanger creates context: "In just one short week, every last one of them would have lost the thing they treasured most in the world." With so many individuals (from an orphan who can bake the perfect cake to a mystery writer who has lost her ability to use words) and situations, it is plot, rather than character, that drives the novel. Mason's half-a-century quest for his suitcase never develops as an arc and becomes an awkward, ancillary distraction. Instead, Cady, the cake baker (nine recipes included), gives the novel its heart. Her search for a family uncovers a multilayered backstory, with events from each character's life connecting to her own. Graff's first foray into fantasy resembles a jigsaw puzzle without a box-cover illustration; one must put all the pieces in place before the big picture is revealed. betty carter

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